Holocaust survivor helps mark Day of Remembrance

April 10, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

In the comfort and safety of her Wilde Lake home, where three black-and-white photographs of her childhood in The rTC Netherlands adorn the entrance walls, Emmy Kolodny reveals the essence of her past: "I almost didn't make it."

As a 4-year-old girl, she was with her "aunt" in Amsterdam one day when she saw an elderly Jewish couple wearing six-point Star of David pins. She blurted: "My mommy and daddy also wear a yellow star."

Nazi collaborators heard her remark, and her aunt -- who was actually a nanny -- moved quickly to take Emmy to a secret location.

It was the beginning of a life of hiding that would span two years.A life separated from her family, who also were hiding from the Nazis.

Ms. Kolodny attributes her survival of the Holocaust to "people willing to risk their lives for me," she said.

"If I had been caught, of course, I wouldn't be alive today," she said.

She used to have nightmares about finding places to hide and her parents being dragged away, Ms. Kolodny said. "But they stopped."

By the end of World War II, 6 million European Jews had been murdered in Nazi concentration camps, including Ms. Kolodny's father and more than 120 other relatives.

Now a 54-year-old widow and mother of two grown daughters, Ms. Kolodny will share her story at a gathering in Owings Mills today to commemorate Yom Hashoah, the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance.

She also is helping coordinate a Yom Hashoah service for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. The service will be held at 7:30 p.m. today at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills.

"You have to recognize man's inhumanity to man," said Steve Shaw, executive director of the county's Jewish Federation.

"All of us -- Jew and non-Jew -- must take a lesson from it and make sure it never happens again."

For Ms. Kolodny, the stories that once triggered nightmares now stir emotions in the people who hear them.

But the uneasy tales of her youth are often difficult for youngsters to understand.

"I have to tell children [that] my parents had to give me away and were not sure if they'd ever see me again," she said. "They didn't know if they'd survive."

Born Emmy Groen on May 25, 1939, she was the second of three girls raised in a working class neighborhood in the eastern portion of Amsterdam called The Concrete, or the Red Village.

"I was just a year old when the war started," she said.

In 1942 two of her aunts went to "work camp," a Nazi labor camp. The women were later transferred to a concentration camp where they were killed, she said.

To avoid the same fate, her parents considered suicide for each family member.

But her mother later decided against the idea, believing the war would end soon.

But the war intensified. In early 1943, with assistance from underground Dutch resistance workers, the Groen family separated and went into hiding.

"I thought at that time, [my parents] were going on vacation, and I wanted to go too," she recalls.

Her mother went to work as a non-Jewish maid in the eastern part of the country. Her older sister went to stay with family friends. Her younger sister -- only 3 months old -- was sent to a children's home under the guise that she was the newborn baby of a mixed married couple. Emmy stayed with an elderly couple in Amsterdam.

Her father was not as lucky. In September 1943, he was arrested in Amsterdam for missing curfew after his bicycle got a flat tire. He was sent to Auschwitz, where he died in the gas chamber less than a year later.

For Emmy, who was later advised to change her surname to Groot, the separation from her real family was followed by two years of being shuffled among several different families.

"You were told not to ask questions," she said of each experience with new parents. "Every time you got used to one place, you had to move."

After the yellow-star incident in Amsterdam, she lived briefly in Rotterdam.

After that she was taken to a Dutch minister's house in Wieringermeer Polder, where she lived for 20 months. While at the minister's house, Emmy learned the family's Christian traditions.

But one day the minister and his wife told the blond, blue-eyed girl that she was Jewish.

"When they told me I was a Jew I probably didn't know what it meant, but I knew I was different and probably had to go elsewhere," she said.

In 1945, she was reunited with her mother, two sisters and an aunt in Amsterdam. The five never shared their experiences, but parts of their past occasionally surfaced.

She said she was told to be grateful because "she was too young to remember what happened, lucky to survive and was only in hiding, not in a concentration camp" like other Jews.

"Eighty-five percent of the Dutch Jews were murdered," she said, adding that 1.5 million European Jewish children were killed. "I could've died."

Searching for the Jewish identity she lost during her childhood, she traveled to Israel in 1961. There she met Bob Kolodny, an American, whom she married in 1964. The couple moved to Boston in 1967 and later to Greenbelt, Md., before settling in Columbia in 1972. Mr. Kolodny died later that year.

Ms. Kolodny compares the bloody ethnic-cleansing in the former Yugoslavia to the Holocaust.

"I think it's awful," she said. "You say, 'Never again,' and 'The world should have learned from the awful things', and we're still sitting by and not doing anything. It's the saddest thing. I wonder if anybody is learning from it."

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